Brighter outlook: The CBO has good news for the health care act

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In politics as in roulette, it is not advisable to place all your bets on one number. But that is what Republicans have done in their unwavering opposition to what they derisively call Obamacare — and the numbers continue to be unlucky for them.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama announced that 8 million Americans had signed up for the health insurance program, exceeding the administration’s initial goal. Three days earlier, the Congressional Budget Office released an estimate that government subsidies for health insurance premiums under the program will cost $104 billion less than the CBO expected over the next decade.

The nonpartisan CBO estimates that the national average cost of individual policies for the second- lowest-cost “silver” plan would be about $3,800 in 2014, $3,900 in $2015 and $4,400 in 2016 — 15 percent below the CBO’s original estimate. Thereafter, premiums would rise to about $6,900 in 2024.

This is welcome news and was hailed as such by the White House. But cheaper doesn’t mean cheap — the overall cost of the coverage provisions of the Affordable Care Act is $1.38 trillion between 2015 and 2024. That remains a big number.

So while the most doomsday predictions of the law’s critics have been blunted, the new projections don’t absolutely refute Republicans’ objections concerning total cost. Indeed, until we know the exact number and profile of the people who have signed up and enough time has passed to judge trends, the CBO estimates are a good take on what is going on but not the final judgment. The best estimates are still just estimates, subject to uncertainty.

Those who support the Affordable Care Act (such as this newspaper) have fresh reason to be encouraged. Those who aren’t supporters may soon want to look again at the numbers and rethink their decision to bet on failure. It seems politically smarter to come up with a plan to improve the legislation, not just junk it.

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